President Biden on Wednesday asked the intelligence community to "redouble" their efforts to "collect and analyze" information that could bring the U.S. closer to a "definitive conclusion" on the origins of COVID-19, saying U.S. intelligence officials are currently torn between "two likely scenarios."
The president, on Wednesday, said that when COVID-19 emerged in early 2020, he, as a candidate, called for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "to get access to China to learn about the virus so we could fight it more effectively."
"The failure to get our inspectors on the ground in those early months will always hamper any investigation into the origin of COVID-19," Biden said Wednesday.
"Nevertheless, shortly after I became President, in March, I had my National Security Advisor task the Intelligence Community to prepare a report on their most up-to-date analysis of the origins of COVID-19, including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident," Biden said, noting that he received that report earlier this month, and asked for "additional follow-up."
"As of today, the U.S. Intelligence Community has ‘coalesced around two likely scenarios’ but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question," Biden explained. "Here is their current position: ‘while two elements in the IC leans toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter – each with low or moderate confidence – the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.’"
"I have now asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days," Biden said in a statement Wednesday. "As part of that report, I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China."
Biden added that he has also asked that the effort include work by "our National Labs and other agencies of our government to augment the Intelligence Community’s efforts."
"And I have asked the Intelligence Community to keep Congress fully apprised of its work," Biden said Wednesday.
"The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence," Biden said.
White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Wednesday underscored the administration's commitment to "throwing everything we have at this pandemic, both domestically and internationally."
Jean-Pierre explained that the president received the first report from the intelligence community earlier his month, but defended the timing of Wednesday's announcement.
"This was classified," she said "It takes time to declassify something so that we can share with all of you. We're talking about classified information that the intelligence community was working on."
Jean-Pierre added that the new phase of the intelligence community investigation is "ongoing," saying that the probe is something "that has been going on since March."
"We're just taking the next step," she explained.
When asked whether the Biden administration would punish China, should intelligence lead to a conclusion that implicates the government, Jean-Pierre said: "I'm just not going to prejudge. I'm not going to make a statement until, you know, until we know what happens after this 90-day review."
Jean-Pierre added that the administration has been "very vocal" about China's lack of transparency with regards to international investigations into the origins of COVID-19, and said they will continue to be.
The Biden administration is calling for a transparent international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, with the White House calling for China and the World Health Organization to provide data and information necessary for U.S. officials to draw conclusions.
The White House has criticized the WHO and China for its "phase one" report for its lack of transparency. That report dismissed claims that COVID-19 had escaped from the lab in Wuhan, and called the theory of zoonotic transmission, or transfer of infection from animals to humans, "likely to very likely."
The report called the prospect that the virus transmitted from an animal reservoir to an animal host, followed by subsequent spread within that intermediate host that then transmits it to humans, "likely to very likely." It also said the idea that the virus may have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology "extremely unlikely."
The report called for further investigation in every area except the lab leak hypothesis.
"We're hopeful that we can move into a more transparent, independent phase two investigation," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, again calling for "access to the underlying data and information."
"An international investigation led by the World Health Organization is something that we've actually been pressing for for several months in coordination with a range of partners around the world," Psaki continued. "We need that data. We need that information from the Chinese government. What we can't do, and what I would caution anyone from doing is leaping ahead of an actual international process."
She added: "We don't have enough data and information to jump to a conclusion at this point in time."
The Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is one of China's top virus research labs, built an archive of genetic information about bat coronaviruses after the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and has faced criticism over its transparency throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
China has promoted unproven theories that the virus may have originated elsewhere, or was even been brought into the country from overseas with imports of frozen seafood tainted with the virus, a notion rejected by international scientists and agencies.